by David Friend
Their eyes have
seen it all, from Pacific battlefields to Hollywood sound stages. This
spring, when seven of photojournalism's grand masters gathered in Larchmont,
New York, the men (combined ages: 575 years, give or take), talked about
terrorism and traded war stories (three covered World War II, two braved
Korea, two were in Vietnam, one has shot a dozen conflicts, including
the Gulf War). But mainly they paid homage: celebrating the 95th birthday
of Carl Mydans (seated, in the wheelchair), one of the first five shooters
to join the staff of the newborn Life, in 1936.
Other luminaries present that day included, from left: sports-photography
pioneer George Silk, high-society chronicler Slim Aarons, Pulitzer Prize-winner
Eddie Adams, author-filmmaker-lensman Gordon Parks (out with a new novel
about artist J.M.W. Turner), John Dominis (publishing Sinatra: An Intimate
Portrait of a Very Good Year in November) and celebrated photojournalist
Harry Benson (the versatile mainstay of Life and Vanity Fair whose latest,
self-titled book has entered its second printing).
Carl is mostly homebound now, having befriended a pet parrot named Charlie,
and spending part of each morning poring over The New York Times in
search of the ever-present byline of his son, Seth, one of the paper's
long-time Asia correspondents. (Carl is still recovering from the loss
of his wife, Shelley, 86, last March. An author and pioneering journalist
in her own right, Shelley was one of a coterie of female WWII correspondents;
the couple, Life's first married reporter-photographer team, were captured
by the Japanese in 1941, spending two years imprisoned at Santo Tomas
in the Philippines.)
But Carl was bright-eyed on May 20--a birthdate he shared with his wife
of 63 years. That scorching afternoon, he reveled in the attention of
friends, ate cake ravenously, and posed for countless pictures from
the prying lens of close friend and former Time colleague Bill Foley
(as well as photographer Claire Yaffa, also on hand).
Indefatigable as a younger man, Carl Mydans, though fragile, is still
on the move. This month, he and his daughter, Misty, a California-based
administrative law judge, plan on making an annual pilgrimage to the
vaunted Eddie Adams (Photographic) Workshop, in Liberty, New York.
Insists Adams, with a smile: "Carl taught all of us."
David Friend is Vanity Fair's Editor
of Creative Development. He served as an executive producer of the CBS
documentary "9/11"--shot by Gedeon and Jules Naudet, nominated
for 5 Emmys--which will air this month in 122 countries.